Cabinet engulfed by expenses storm: Gordon Brown paid brother £6,500 for cleaning flat

By Tim Shipman
Last updated at 8:24 AM on 08th May 2009

Serial alleged abuse of the expenses gravy train by senior Cabinet ministers was laid bare last night.

Leaked documents revealed that Gordon Brown paid his own brother £6,500 for cleaning services they shared.

The Prime Minister was further embarrassed by the revelation that he made a mistaken claim for a plumber, charging the £150 bill to taxpayers twice over.

The full expenses claims of 13 Cabinet ministers revealed that they have missed no trick in lining their pockets from the public purse.

From 2001, they claimed an astonishing £2.3million on running costs, furniture and refurbishment for their second homes.

Jack Straw: £1,700 claim for unpaid council tax
Gimme gimme: Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid his brother £6,500 for the services of a shared cleaner

Jack Straw
Brown

Their full receipts, published for the first time, revealed that:

  • Jack Straw, who has responsibility for the criminal justice system, claimed £1,700 in expenses to cover the costs of council tax he never paid. He also overclaimed for mortgage payments.
  • John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, claimed two toilet seats in two years and got taxpayers to pay for mock Tudor beams to front his property.
  • Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy submitted a claim for £3,000 for a new hot water system, complaining to Commons officials that his water was ‘too hot’.
  • Communities Secretary Hazel Blears got taxpayers to pay for £5,000 of furniture in just three months and claimed on three different properties in a year.
  • Shaun Woodward, the richest member of the Cabinet, claimed £100,000 toward the mortgage on one of his seven homes.
  • Foreign Secretary David Miliband claimed hundreds of pounds to pay for a gardener at his constituency home. The gardener questioned whether the work was necessary.
  • Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, claimed nearly £3,000 for repairs to his exconstituency home in Hartlepool, even after he had decided to quit as an MP.

The claims were submitted under the highly controversial allowance that lets MPs recoup the running costs on their second homes from the public purse.

The details are certain to fuel public disgust at the way senior MPs have taken advantage of the system and reinforce calls for an end to the lax regime of oversight which allows them to police the rules themselves.

The bizarre lengths to which ministers have been prepared to go to claim taxpayers’ money were starkly revealed in the case of Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, who is said to have waged a months-long campaign to try to claim funds for the purchase and renovation of a London flat.

After being turned down three times by Commons officials, he eventually sent a jokey handwritten note asking that he be paid the money promptly or he ‘might be in line for divorce’. He later received £16,500.

Last night he denied any wrongdoing.

The revelations seem particularly damaging to Mr Brown, who has staked his reputation on cleaning up the discredited system.

MPs are bemused the Prime Minister had potentially laid himself open to accusations of sharp practice by handing over large amounts of public money to his brother, Andrew.

Receipts submitted by the Prime Minister to parliamentary authorities between 2004 and 2006 disclosed that he paid Andrew Brown – a senior executive at EDF Energy – £6,577 for cleaning services.

The Prime Minister’s office said he shared a cleaner with his brother and reimbursed him for his share of the costs.

A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘It was easier for her in terms of National Insurance arrangements to be paid by one person.

‘There is no question of Andrew Brown doing the cleaning or receiving any financial benefit.’

Today, Number 10 released the contract relating to the cleaning arrangement and insisted again there was nothing ‘unusual or wrong’ about the set-up.

Mr Brown also called in someone to clear his drains in 2006 and then submitted two claims for the same £150 bill. He apparently paid the money back yesterday when the mistake was drawn to his attention.

The Prime Minister has made much play of his status as a politician with a firm ‘moral compass’ but the details of his claims reveal a man quite happy to call on the public purse.

Mr Brown is said to have cashed in by changing the designation of his second home shortly before he moved into Downing Street.

That allowed him to claim the running costs of his home in Fife, including £1,500 to tidy his garden, the hire of a cleaner at £10.50 an hour.

Before he became Prime Minister, Mr Brown had designated his London flat as his second home.

The Prime Minister also submitted extensive incidental expenses, including one bill to call out a pest control agency at a cost to the taxpayer of £352.

Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader, leapt to Mr Brown’s defence this morning and stressed the Government had already acted to change the system.

‘I don’t think that because Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, shared a cleaner for his flat with his brother, that that is fiddling,’ she said.

‘I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that Gordon Brown was pocketing that £6,000, nor are they suggesting that his brother was pocketing that £6,000.’

She added: ‘I know people will be very angry and concerned about this, but I do want to reassure people that we have recognised there’s a problem and we’ve already taken action on this.’

The revelations cap a difficult fortnight for Gordon Brown, who faced a tough Question Time this week

The revelations cap a difficult fortnight for Gordon Brown, who faced a tough Question Time this week

Mr Straw’s claims may draw the most criticism. Leaked documents revealed that for five years the Justice Secretary claimed the full council tax on his second home, when for the entire period he had paid only half of it.

When Mr Straw discovered the problem, he is alleged to have admitted that he had based his submission on pure guesswork rather than a receipt and he was forced to pay the money back.

In the letter to Commons officials he readily confessed ‘accounting is not my strongest point.’

Mr Straw’s spokesman insisted that all his claims ‘have been made entirely in accordance with the rules set by the Commons authorities’.

He added: ‘On the claims relating to mortgage interest payments an error arose because the amount of interest declined rapidly toward the end of the mortgage.

‘This error was identified by the Commons authorities on information provided by Mr Straw and then repaid.

‘It was also Mr Straw himself who spotted errors in the claims for council tax and alerted the authorities. He repaid the difference.’

But if Mr Brown’s and Mr Straw’s questionable claims might be put down to oversights, many of the other claims might be seen to have helped members of the Cabinet profit from the property market.

Miss Blears, the Communities Secretary, has some explaining to do after it was alleged that she twice charged taxpayers for the cost of a television in a single year.

In the space of a year she sold a property in Manchester, bought a second in London, then sold that and moved into a hotel, before buying a third property.

It is understood that she claimed also expenses for household goods, which include bed linens, in all three homes. Chancellor Alistair Darling is also said to have used the system to his own advantage, making claims for multiple properties.

He changed his second home four times in as many years.

A similar tactic was allegedly used by Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, who switched his second home in a way which allowed him to improve his family home in Derbyshire at taxpayers’ expense before buying a London townhouse.

Mr Burnham, Europe minister Caroline Flint and Mr Murphy all bought flats – or the freehold on properties they already owned – and are said to have claimed back the stamp duty and other moving costs.

Few showed a sharper eye for taking public cash than Mr Prescott. The Hull politician claimed huge amounts for groceries and home furnishings.

In addition to having mock Tudor pillars added to his turreted constituency home, Mr Prescott claimed £1,187 for the outside of his house to be repainted in 2004-5 and a further £609.92 on white goods, including a Zanussi washing machine.

The self-confessed bulimic claimed the maximum possible amount for food, £4,800 a year, and twice in as many years got taxpayers to fund a new lavatory seat.

By contrast, Hillary Benn, the Environment Secretary, claimed just £147.78 for food in one year.

In total more than half the Cabinet are facing serious questions about their expenses claims.

ANDREW BROWN

Andrew Brown was paid £6,500 by his brother for cleaning services

The degree to which some of them appeared to be using the system was thrown into sharper relief by the fact that not all of them have felt the need to fund lavish lifestyles on public funds.

In contrast to many ministers who claimed the vast majority of the £24,000-a-year second homes allowance, Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Secretary claimed just £6,300 a year in rent for a small home in his constituency.

His brother David was more lavish with public money, running up such colossal costs for gardening that even his gardener questioned whether he needed to spend so much.

Over five years Mr Miliband claimed £30,000 in repairs, decoration and furnishings for a home in his South Shields seat that was only worth £120,000. His attempt to claim for a pram was rejected by Commons authorities.

In a sign of the Government’s desperation to control the damage, Labour MPs and ministers last night tried to claim that the leaks were the result of a smear operation launched by the Tories.

But they were unable to provide any evidence for that assertion and refused to point the finger at any member of the opposition.

Further revelations are expected when the full details of all MP’s expenses are published in July. Further abuses are expected to include a junior minister who charged a new sauna to taxpayers.

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